Pars Review's build up to our next match starts here, focusing specifically on options for the Pars starting 11, formations and tactics, with the team's current form and our next opposition in mind.
The regular Match Preview will be posted tomorrow.
The last time we met Dundee United, at Tannadice on 2nd December, Allan Johnston changed the Dunfermline team's usual 4-4-2 formation to 4-1-4-1. This was a rare example of the manager making such a deliberate change to the set-up of the team, designed to combat and cope with the opposition. It was, overall, a limited success - the spine of the team was stronger, with Big Nat as defensive midfielder. In front of him was Lewis Martin, drafted into the starting 11 after Dean Shiels was delayed in traffic. Martin is a very limited footballer but his athleticism and defensive mindset benefited the team on the day. The game was lost by individual errors that led to both United goals, not the shape of the team. In general, they had a much more solid look than in previous visits to Tannadice over the past 2 years.
Since then, the manager has tried out 4-3-3, 4-1-3-2 (with both those formations interchanging depending on Joe Cardle's positioning), 4-1-4-1 again (briefly, before abandoning it before half time in the disastrous home game against Queen of the South) and also his old favourite, 4-4-2. With the decline and eventual benching of Kallum Higginbotham, 4-4-2 has almost been consigned to history, as Johnston has preferred not to directly replace Higgy on the right wing (Michael Paton and Fraser Aird being options), instead playing Paton as part of a more condensed midfield 3.
Unlike the circumstances surrounding our last meeting with United, this weekend's game does not require such caution: we are unbeaten in 3, United have just lost 6-1 to a Falkirk team that we defeated in the previous game, and we need to win to close the gap with United. This is a game we must look to win and not merely contain the opposition. Also, the game is at home. I would fully expect the same formation as in the past few games: 4-1-3-2/4-3-3. Big Nat will be the defensive guard in midfield, whether as the one player in front of the defence, or in a midfield 3 to allow Cardle to play further forward at times.
TEAM SELECTION - SUITABILITY - CURRENT FORM
Allan Johnston decided against bringing club captain Callum Morris straight back into the team last week, after he had served a 1 game suspension. Many expected Morris to regain his place in central defence, but it was encouraging to see Johnston keep faith with Jean Yves M'Voto, who had played so well in the Falkirk game when Morris was suspended. I would expect the team to line up with the same players as in the past 2 games. Lee Robinson would retain his place in goal even if Sean Murdoch was not injured. The defence is settled and although I would like to see a right back brought in to supplement the squad, there should be no changes to the back 4 that faced Falkirk and Dumbarton, games where no goals were conceded.
The midfield can be flexible, as noted above, with Joe Cardle being given a free role on the left of a midfield 3, or further upfield, which would see the team shifting between 4-1-3-2 and 4-3-3. Cardle in attack means Big Nat would move into central midfield while still holding back with defensive duties in mind; Michael Paton and Dean Shiels can both play centre or right in a midfield 3.
Unless there are any injuries that we are unware of, the team above should start the game. As I mentioned in Tuesday's '2 Good, 2 Bad' article on this site (here), Johnston has recently addressed a couple of the issues often levelled at him: sticking religiously to 4-4-2 (he is now open to other formations) and keeping faith with regulars who are not in great form (he has now replaced Higgy and Morris with other players - and the team's results, coincidentally or not, have since improved). The third main issue is his reluctance to make substitutions until there are between 8 or 12 minutes remaining. I would like to see him take off obviously tired players after 65 or 70 minutes, or even earlier if necessary. I have no problem with delaying a third sub until later as insurance against injuries, but I feel it would be beneficial to freshen the team up in the final third or final quarter of the match when there is still enough time for players such as Andy Ryan to make a real impact.
Tomorrow: Pars v Dundee United match preview